“My God, Jax, is that really you?”
“You never change, do you Freddie?”
“I went to your funeral!”
“Oh yeah. Heard that was a big thing. Also heard you showed up drunk.”
“What? Well, yes, but—”
“Sit down, Freddie.”
He collapses bonelessly into a chair. “I’ve been trying to finish your work, Jax. Don’t tell me that you’ve been in on it all this time—”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She lights a cigarette in an elegant holder and sits down. “Glad to know you think so highly of me. Love of my life, ladies and gentlemen.”
“Well, then, are you the captain?”
“No!” says a man entering the salon. He has white hair, a solid square face with bright blue eyes, and a pronounced Cockney accent. “You may call me Nemo, meaning no one, for I have no name—”
“Charlie,” says Jax.
“Oh, all right.” Captain Nemo sits down across from Freddie and Jax.
[Michael Caine as Nemo! Jeez, that guy really is in everything.]
“By the way, you owe me a fiver, Charlie. He reacted just the way I said,” drawls Jax.
The captain looks at Jax, and then at Freddie. “Bloody hell,” he mutters under his breath. “Allow me to introduce myself, sir. My name is Charles Marlowe, and I’ve been a sailor most of my life.”
[Yes, THAT Marlowe, from the Conrad novels.]
“And how did you get this ship, Captain? My Auntie Em doesn’t have anything to do with it, does she?”
“I haven’t the fortune of her acquaintance, although she was friendly with one of my predecessors. No, sir, you see, several years ago I had the misfortune to make a rather trying voyage up the Congo river. The experience truly shook me, sir, body and soul, and after I returned to Europe I realized that I must become an enemy of a system so depraved. Well, one thing led to another, and eventually I attracted the interest of a rather powerful patron, who needed an experience seaman for his new submarine. And so I took command of the Nautilus.”
“And quite the vessel she is. But what is your connection with these Cultists?”
“Ah, sir, there you get into some muddled waters. My patron is also their benefactor; he’s especially friendly with Sir Aubrey. We’ve been making cruises on their behalf for a few years now. In return, Sir Aubrey has promised a fleet of vessels such as this. With those, sir,” and a manic gleam comes into his eyes, “we could drive the imperialist nations from the sea. But as attractive as that proposition might be, I find myself somewhat opposed to his ends now.”
“Because of the end of the world.”
“Something like that, sir.”
“And how did Miss Elias come here?”
“That was Muriel—Dr. Mwimbe’s idea, not mine. After my men lifted Miss Elias from her hospital, she had us nab another woman who resembled Jackson. With the help of a little magic, we soon had a body that would pass an autopsy; after all, no one looks like themselves after floating in the water for a few days. We released the body right after leaving our dockage on Long Island and then left for other missions.”
“Charlie’s been looking after me ever since,” says Jackson, lighting another cigarette.
Freddie studies her. He can tell that there’s something missing from her—some vital spark.
[In game terms, all her Pillars are shattered and her Drive no longer functions. Plus, she’s been cooped up in a submarine for a year.
I debated with myself long and hard about bringing back Jax. I didn’t want to cheapen the palpable sense of loss that pervaded the early sessions by pulling the rug out. But I always saw this as a possible outcome, so I made sure to leave some wiggle room there. In the end, I decided to go ahead, but made sure it was the cliffhanger for the penultimate session.
And then FP went and changed Freddie’s heart right before I did the big reveal. This is when games allow your story to move in unexpected ways.]
“And where are you taking me now?” says Freddie.
“To Danger Island. Sir Aubrey wants to talk to you.”
“Yes. Seems to have some respect for you. In any case, it’s safest for us all to make him happy. He has ways of sinking even a ship like the Nautilus. But I do hope you and your friends can come up with something.”
Several days pass. Freddie is bored and amuses himself by chattering at everyone. Jax is languid and monosyllabic. Every now and again Freddie catches a haunted look in her eyes, but she always looks away quickly when she catches him watching.
Mirabelle charms the entire crew and is uncannily well-behaved.
Eventually they enter an undersea cave, the Danger Island dockage for the Nautilus. Freddie is led up through caverns filled with machinery. The skeletal frameworks for several submarines like the Nautilus are held in some. Workers scurry around them. Something about them strikes him as inhuman.
Eventually he emerges into the tropical sunlight. And blinks.
He seems to be in the courtyard of a Buddhist temple of some kind. Thick walls surround the compound, and two pagoda-roofed towers dominate opposite corners. A large building—where the shrine would be—seems to be some kind of residence or command center.
Outside the compound walls some enormous machine, swathed in gantries, looms against the sky.
As Freddie stands there, a thin, sharp-featured middle-aged man scrambles out of the house, across the porch, and runs towards him, hand held out. “Freddie Blakely how good it is to see you!” he says in cultured English accent, vigorously pumping Freddie’s hands. “Welcome, welcome. Such a pleasure after all this time.”
“Sir Aubrey Penhew, I presume?”
“Where are my manners? Yes, yes, call me Aubrey. Damned fine to see you. And this must be Mirabelle, coming up with Miss Elias?”
“Excellent, excellent. How wonderful to have her as well. I do apologize for Muriel’s deception. I never really thought her plan could work, but, well, no one could ever tell Muriel anything. Do come and take some tea.”
Somewhat dazed, Freddie finds himself a short time later sitting on a verandah overlooking a large lagoon. A canal leads from a rather deep pool in the middle of the…temple…to the lagoon. A servant pours him a cup of excellent tea from a silver service.
“So, Freddie, I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here?”
“Well, I have to admit, I’ve admired the way you’ve been tweaking the tail of the British lion. So many warehouses burnt! Was that your doing?”
“Mr. O’Donnell’s. He has rather the knack.”
“I thought so. Man of your breeding could never. And that breeding is part of why…well, let me do this in the right order. You know what we are going to do?”
“Open some kind of gate.”
“Yes. But not just that. When we open the gate, it will be—to the source of all the cosmic mysteries. Our machines will modulate the energies that pour forth from that gate. They will awaken the latent abilities of certain humans in the area affected by the eclipse. Truly awaken them, Freddie. Their power will be…enormous. They will make the evolutionary leap to the next stage of development.”
“You said certain humans. How many?”
“We think on the order of two percent.”
“What will happen to the rest?”
“Many will be unaffected. Many, however will be killed by the changes. Many more will be driven mad.”
“How many will die?”
“Some twenty or thirty million directly. Others, later, at the hands of the Awakened, or the madmen.”
“Rather a lot, don’t you think?”
“Well. We are doing our best to limit this, you know. This is the best chance we have to awaken a substantial amount of people, while still leaving the mass of humanity unaffected. We could have tried for the Antarctica eclipse earlier, but not enough would awaken, and it would have been logistically much harder.”
“And what were the others’ roles in this?”
“Dr. Huston did most of the programming, although it was a constant fight to keep his own megalomania from poisoning the project. Likewise Muriel and Edouard had their own ideas about what should go in.”
“You make it all sound perfectly logical.”
“Freddie,” says Aubrey, with a pained look, “please try to understand. What if I were to tell you that within twenty years, over fifty million people will die? And not quickly, but in horror, by bomb, by fire, by famine. Eight millions—more—will be brutally sacrificed for no reason whatsoever except prejudice. I have seen this. Nyarlat-hotep has shown me the future.”
“I doubt there will be another war.”
“Open your eyes, Freddie. And besides. In…call it ninety years or so—none of the people alive today will still be living. By 2014, they’ll all have passed off this world. And we may kill fifty million by what we do, as many as in the war to come. But…the survivors will be gods.”
Aubrey lights a cigarette. “Anyway, Freddie, it’s all the same to me really. I don’t plan to be around when this happens. I’m going through the gate, and I’d like you to come with me.”
“You’re a proven adventurer. I know you are a man of supreme breeding and talent. I could use someone like you with me, someone I know will do the right thing?”
“I…really couldn’t. But I must thank you for coming right out and telling me everything, it’s very refreshing.”
“Well, think it over, think it over.” Aubrey stands up. “I’m afraid I have to go see about the final preparations for the ceremony, and to greet your friends—oh yes, I know they are coming! You have the run of the place, Freddie; you won’t be able to get into anywhere dangerous. And my head of security is rather brilliant, you know. Oh, speak of the Devil!”
Freddie turns as someone in a plain but very trim uniform approaches. An elegant shoulder pin seems to mark a high rank.
For the second time since Kerguelen Island, Freddie boggles.
“This is my head of security,” says Sir Aubrey.
“Hello, Mr. Blakely,” says Sheila Brisbane.